Saturday, 19 January 2019

Glaucous Gull in the Cuckmere (19 January 2019)

Saturday 19 January. A combination of a high tide and rough weather made looking through the gulls in the Cuckmere a reasonable option for a miserable day. I took Cookie and met JK in the car park at the barn just after 08:30. We walked down past Harry's Bush and spent until just after 11:00 going through the gulls from the footpath. As is usually the caser in rough weather Great Black-backed Gulls predominated with at least 1200 present in two separate flocks. There was also a flock of about 300 Herring Gulls around the small pool slightly to the north with 20+ Lesser Black-backed Gulls scattered throughout. We scanned the flocks and soon saw a partially obscured dark mantled, dark-eyed white-headed Herring Gull type in amongst the Gret Black-backs. It immediately raised hopes of it being a Caspian Gull but its bill and tail were obscured by the gull in front of it. While waiting for it to move we continued scanning the flock and soon picked out the juvenile Glaucous Gull on the far bank of the pool. Both birds were on view for at least an hour and were pointed out to a couple of passing birdwatchers. The gull in front of the putative Caspian eventually moved showing it to have a long thin washed out bill which for me firmed up on it being a Caspian Gull. We kept scanning seeing at least five and probably several more argentatus Herring Gulls but could not find any Yellow-legged Gulls. We also saw what was probably a third-winter Caspian Gull but views/photos were not really good enough to be sure. We left just after 11:00 and while walking down to the sea all the gulls got up and flew. Most in the two Great Black-backed Gull flocks settled further out in the field and were joined by some of the Herring Gull flock, the majority of which flew out over towards Seaford Head. We assumed the Glaucous had gone with them as we could not find it amongst the remaining gulls. A very enjoyable couple of hours in not particularly pleasant conditions, most of which I regretted not taking an umbrella.
juvenile Glaucous Gull in the Cuckmere. Photos all diogoscoped but not great due to dull day and water on lenses 
most likely a female as it was not a particularly large individual
it appeared very dark below suggesting a first-winter

its bill was its main 'stand-out' feature, identical to DC's Viking Gull recently on Unst
with argentatus Herring Gull, identified on large size, dark mantle, extensive white on p10 and bright legs. I'm not sure if this says more about the Glaucous being small (a female) or the argentatus being big (a male?)
first view of the adult Caspian Gull, it was raining at this time
not a lot to go on but pure white head, small dark eye and darker mantle (c.f. Herring Gull top right)
its long thin washed out bill was a clincher for me, forward placed bullet hole and sloping forehead good too
with eye closed
more of the same
straw coloured legs, quite long although not appearing particularlty thin
possible third-winter Caspian Gull, the small headed dark-eyed bird looking straight at me
hard ot make out much detail at this range although small headed and pale billed
brownish cast to the coverts
hard to make out much more detail
although the overall feel of the bird was good

Friday, 18 January 2019

Snow Bunting (18 January 2019)

Friday 18 January. I took Cookie to Goring Gap hopeful of seeing the Snow Bunting that performed there the previous day. More so as it is one of my favourites and I had not seen one for almost two years. I was not disappointed and it gave brilliant views along the side of the beach footpath. It didn't seem too concerned by encroaching photographers or even most dog walkers which was just as well as there were a lot around (myself and JK included). Between bouts of extended observation of the Snow Bunting I saw a second-winter Mediterranean Gull, 40 Sanderling on the beach and 26 Great Crested Grebes and two Red-breasted Mergansers offshore. We called in on the Adur on the way home. The tide hadn't dropped far enough for gulls to gather although we did see Grey Plover and Reed Bunting. At dusk a Mistle Thrush was feeding in Buckingham Park. 
Snow Bunting on the beach at Goring Gap
one of my favourite birds


there were few gulls in the fields at Goring, a bit disappointing as the tide was quite high (at least initially) and the wind moderately strong. At least those that were there included this very smart second-winter Mediterranean Gull.

male Reed Bunting opposite Shoreham Airport
Wednesday 16 January. A morning around Shoreham with Cookie where we saw the male Black Redstart briefly on Shoreham Fort, three Purple Sandpipers under the wooden jetty and a Rock Pipit. We continued on to Widewater where, given the rough weather, it was no surprise to see a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers on the lagoon. There were fewer birds offshore at either site although they included 70 auks (mostly quite distant but included five Razorbills and a Guillemot), 20 Gannets, seven Brent Geese and two Kittiwakes. With a southerly wind and deep troughs it was hard to pick much out sat on the sea although it would have been difficult to miss a tight flock of 95 Cormorants. A low tide visit to the Adur added just the Curlew, two Lesser Black-backed and about 350 Herring Gulls. With the latter was a North Thames colour-ringed youngster which stood and hoped around on one leg before I could read it. No guessing which leg the ring was on.

Sunday, 13 January 2019

Sussex 4-13 January 2019 (Crossbills, Gannets and puzzling gulls)

Sunday 13 January. JK and I went to the Gills Lap/Wrens Warren area of Ashdown Forest where we spent over three hours in the morning wandering around looking unsuccessfully for the Great Grey Shrike. Twenty-three Crossbills, seven Redpolls and two male Bullfinches provided decent compensation. Late afternoon I visited Beeding Brooks but failed to see any owls, a strengthening NW wind probably not helping. A Marsh Harrier seen three times, a sign of the changing times,meant the visit wasn't entirely wasted and Cookie had a walk.
male Crossbill at Gills Lap

female Crossbill at Gills Lap

looking north to a shrike-free Wrens Warren
Saturday 12 January. A morning visit to Pulborough where a walk in the woods pleasant but quiet with two Coal Tits the highlight. A Marsh Harrier was seen over the brooks from the visitor centre and a Buzzard next to the A259 just north of Shoreham - on a fence post on the way there and a gate on the way home. Later I went to Newhaven's Riverside Park where I met up with JK and we tracked down the Hume's Yellow-browed Warbler greatly helped by it's occasional calling. We continued on to Newhaven Harbour for dusk. The tide was high but several hundred gulls were roosting on the west arm although unfortunately the juvenile Glaucous Gull seen earlier in the day was not amongst them.

Friday 11 January. A morning visit to Shoreham Fort with Cookie again found the Black Redstart and a Peregrine but most of the action was on the sea with exceptional numbers of auks, gulls and Gannets feeding a few hundred metres offshore. A calm sea made viewing fairly easy and between there and Widewater I estimated 950+ Razorbills, 25+ Guillemots, 250 Gannets, 61 Cormorants, 31 Great Crested Grebes, 19 Kittiwakes and 400+ Herring Gulls. Very impressive We walked from Widewater to Lancing Yacht Club where the two Velvet Scoter I'd seen on 2nd were off-shore, again easier to see in the calm conditions. In the afternoon at high tide Megan and I walked across the lock-gates to the East Arm but there were no Purple Sandpipers roosting there. The Peregrine was still sat on the lighting gantry DS and I had seen it land on when we'd been at the Fort in the morning.

Black Redstart at Shoreham Fort

Gannets and a Razorbill off Shoreham Fort

two brave Razorbills in the mix
sadly no white-winged gulls, a day too soon and 20 miles too far west ...

mainly Razorbills

Wednesday 9 January. I took Cookie to Brooklands where we saw a Pochard, Great Spotted and Green Woodpeckers and a couple of puzzling first-winter gulls. A high tide visit to Shoreham Fort failed to find any Purple Sandpipers although the male Black Redstart was still about. The tide wasn't high enough to flush waders out of the saltings by the houseboats but I did see Curlew, Greenshank and Kingfisher. Later at home three Stock and ten Collared Doves were in the garden.

puzzling first-winter gulls at Brooklands. Left presumably Herring despite predominantly dark tertials, middle Caspian or Herring or hybrid, right Yellow-legged (despite black Wellingtons)?
it was the middle bird that initially caught my eye even if it was pretending to be a chicken
Caspian Gull or hybrid at Brooklands, note its long primary projection
to me its plumage looked pretty good for first-winter Caspian although the scapulars are perhaps too strongly marked and the greater coverts more heavily barred than most. While its head and underparts are not gleaming white they are much whiter than Herring.
its bill didn't look particularly long but it lacks any gonyeal angle and gives a snouty impression, at least at this angle, while the eye is 
its legs didn't look thin but aren't particularly short either
venetian blind inner primaries at a pinch

small head and ventral bulge
very small head but bill looks very short too although somewhat foreshortened
clear cut black tail band and lightly patterned rump
solid black tips to inner primaries and underwing looking whiter when not so shadowed

I had images which seemed to show most pro-Caspian features and a trait score seemed to put it in the pure Caspian zone but it didn't feel quite convincing enough for me. Maybe the views were too good? Time to look at the other bird ...
its robust bill and heavily patterned scapulars looked good for Yellow-legged Gull as did its thick banded tail but had its worn tertails been notched? 

Greenshank roosting  on the saltings by the Adur houseboats, presumably the bird that has spent the previous two winters in the area. Welcome back.
Sunday 6 January. Megan and I took Cookie to Lancing Ring and Steepdown where we found just three Corn Buntings, a Stonechat and a Redwing. Later on Beeding Brooks Cookie and I stuck to the river bank (avoiding the fierce cows) and saw two Short-eared Owls and three Fieldfares.
Short-eared Owl at Beeding Brooks
Saturday 5 January. JK, Cookie and I had a day in West Sussex starting at the Black Rabbit at Arundel a little before dawn. Here we saw a superb Barn Owl (aren't they all) hunting across the river and three Marsh Harriers (one a male) leaving roost. Next stop was Chichester Marina where there was no sign of the three Black-necked Grebes seen in Chichester Channel earlier in the week. Twenty-three Little Grebes and seven Red-breasted Mergansers in the channel were little compensation. P&BJ who we saw as we were leaving had just seen four Waxwings in Emsworth so continued there but arrived half an hour or so after they'd flown off. An hour standing around in a pub car park was enough for us and we left (a good move as it turned out as they were not seen again). We returned via the Burgh, stopping first in Burpham where the ten Bewick's Swans were in the water meadows from the church and the Siberian and five Common Chiffchaffs, Grey Wagtail and a Bullfinch at the Sewage Works. We saw six Grey Partridges, three Marsh Harriers, six Red Kites and 250 Linnets at the Burgh. We would have done better to stay in the Arun as the day quickly went downhill after a good start but recovered somewhat at the end.

Friday 4 January. Two very distant Pink-footed Geese were seen near Rodmell. Later Megan, Cookie and I visited Beeding Hill seeing Little Owl, Fieldfare and three Redwings.